Making the move to mobile

How to determine the best technology stack and architecture for modern app development

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Responsive web applications

Responsive web design built on existing CSS properties offers a flexible experience in web development. Modern browsers feature consistent adoption and a broader ability to provide a standard experience regardless of screen size. As a result, organizations are now developing responsive web applications instead of native apps.

It is possible to provide unique experiences by device type and screen size, but this is traditionally limited due to different presentations of the menu or app navigation. The benefits of building a responsive app are displaying consistent content across breakpoints and a single investment in the codebase.

If there is an immediate go-to-market need, a responsive app is often the fastest path to getting a mobile app in the hands of the consumer. What is gained in speed is given up in control over the experience. Responsive apps are at the mercy of web browsers in how they render the application. The browser market is diverging back to standards controlled on a browser-by-browser basis—increasing complexity and raising the development cost.

If customer experience is a priority or you want to persist data between sessions, responsive apps are unlikely to deliver what is required. Conversely, if there is a desire to have some mobile presence and there is none today, responsive apps are the quickest route to launch that cover the multi-device market.

Functionality includes:

Responsive web applications
Responsive web applications functionality illustration

Development characteristics

Discoverability: Web only
The app is accessed via web browsers, direct URL, or indirectly via a search engine or link.
The app is not published in the app marketplace and is not searchable via marketplace

App updates: Author controlled
The app is hosted on a web server. The author has access to it and updates can be made at any time and without delay—the same as any website updating process.

Supported devices: Any device with a web browser
Responsive apps reach wider than any other architecture. The same app could render for devices as large as a television, down to a wearable, so long as that viewport is accounted for.

Network dependency: No network, no apps
Since responsive apps are dependent on web browsers, there is no version of a purely responsive app that can run offline. If this is a requirement, then it’s a non-starter.

Certification: None required
While Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store require certifications for apps on its platform, no third-party certification is required for responsive apps.

Codebase: Single codebase
Since responsive apps at their core are web applications, there is no need for different code bases across devices.

Performance: Dependent on the architectural approach
Network connectivity is the driving variable in performance, as they are entirely dependent on internet access. The balance of server-side versus client-side logic and the amount of data being processed and transmitted are also critical factors.

Time to market: Fast when targeting single-use, focused applications
Overall, responsive apps have the fewest hurdles in getting to market.

Responsive web applications development characteristics
Responsive web applications development characteristics illustration

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